Women Who Inspire: Erin McGinn

I'm SO incredibly lucky to be surrounded by women who inspire me. Women who make me strive to be better every day. Women who push me out of my comfort zone (I don't like it there anyway), and women who are also there to tell me to go easy on myself. Erin McGinn is a perfect example of one of these amazing women. If you follow me on instagram, you've definitely seen me credit her a time or two (or two million) for her beautiful photography on our work together.  Erin's images never fail to make everything look extra lovely, so I trust her whole heartedly with everything we do.  

Photography:  Ella Iannotti

Photography: Ella Iannotti

Erin and I actually go way back - back when blogs were just a new thing, and twitter was all the rage (yep, that far back). She was actually a wedding planner and blogger at the time, and I had my own little blog (bonus points to anyone who remembers that one!) and was writing for Style Me Pretty. Somehow the stars aligned and we met for lunch one day. We talked about how we craved a more lifestyle approach to imagery, how much we love travel, and how much we love our dogs. It was a match. And the rest is history. 

In truth, Erin is so much more than my go-to photographer. She's been a life coach, a travel buddy (we've been on a lot of romantic vacations together for shoots...haha), and someone who has been there for me for some really tough times. She's steady and inspired. An amazing listener to my chatty Cathy ways. If you see us on shoots, we don't even communicate in full sentences - she just knows exactly what I want and vice versa. It's a really lucky relationship, and I will never, ever take it for granted. 

Photography:  Ella Iannotti

Photography: Ella Iannotti

I could go on forever, but let's let her do the talking. I want all of you to get to know this lovely lady behind the lens. She's so darn special, and deserves some serious time in the spotlight. So without further ado...


Ok, let’s get down to business. Give us a little background on how your path to photography. Have you always known you wanted to do this?

Hahaha! Just the opposite. Growing up in NJ, since I was probably 3 years old and saw a stranded whale on the beach, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I applied early admission to URI because of their awesome Marine Bio program. On the first day of school, our advisor said to us "If you signed up for this program thinking you are going to Save the Whales or something, you're dead wrong". Um, what did you say? My rebel soul fought against his advice "I'll show him! I'm going to work in dolphin and whale conservation and make money and make changes!". Upon graduation, I figured if there is a place to do conservation, it's California. One of my roommates from URI was going to grad school in San Diego, one of my close friends (who is now my husband) was living there too, and I thought what better place to "find myself" than Cali. Moving cross country with my summer of waitress savings and my 1990 honda accord, to one of the most expensive cities in the country, was a wakeup call. I applied to every single job opening in science I could find. Scripps Institute, Sea World, etc. and heard crickets. I realized at that point it was Grad School or a game change. I spent weeks trying to push myself to apply while working for Hilton hotels, learning about hospitality, food, and wine, and buying my first SLR film camera (this was 2003) to take photos in my free time on hikes and beach days and trips around California. Nic and I started dating. I realized grad school for 4 more years in a lab or classroom wasn't where I wanted to be. Our friends and family and the seasons started calling us back to the Atlantic. We realized that if we wanted to start a life together we wanted it to be in Rhode Island. Upon moving back, I worked as a travel agent for a year and then my friend Nichole asked if I'd be interested in an Event Management position at Belle Mer in Newport. It was then I fell in love with weddings. I planned 40 weddings and my own wedding in the same year. Saturated in blogs (SMP was brand new), magazines (there were so many more!) , and living and breathing (literally) all things wedding. When I began to see my clients' photos come back, I saw another side to photography. In my mind, it was a hobby and a way to document travel, but pairing it with my new found love for weddings and create actual art? Now that was exciting! I assisted other photographers, I completed the CE program at RISD, I worked for 2 local wedding magazines, all while building my business and honing my eye. I went full time in 2014 and haven't looked back.


What gave you the courage to make such a big change in direction to pursue photography?

I think it felt more crazy than courageous. I had never thought photography would be a full time job. I never thought I'd be an entrepreneur. But, more than anything my husband's support was really the backbone. I asked him to give me 5 years from the time I left Belle Mer in 2009 to make it a profitable job. He didn't think twice about supporting me. Also, the women I worked with at Bliss Celebrations Guide really believed in my photography and took me on as staff photographer in 2011. My friend Josh, the art director at Newport Harbor Corp. believed in me. Abby, you believed in me and published my work. And these people saw a LOT of photography. So I figured if they thought it was good, maybe it was good. And that gave me the confidence to keep pushing myself to get better and grow.


What are a few tips for new photographers looking to improve their skill set?

In order to really find your voice, immerse yourself in it. Find photographers who shoot in the style you love. Figure out how they do it (not with presets or with filters or by asking them) but figure it out for yourself. How did they light it? If you had to guess, what were their settings? Try it, fail, try again. Shoot in good light, shoot in crappy light. Rent gear if you need to. Photograph anyone who will have you, your friends, their kids, your dog. Photograph things that aren't in your skill set (if people come easy, try interiors. If stillifes are easy, try newborns). Get out of your comfort zone. Take a class (or 2 or finish a whole program like me). Shoot with your phone. Share your work or ask for critiques in forums. Once you feel like you have your style down and what you like to shoot, curate curate curate your site and instagram so it is coheasive and only shows your best. But never stop learning.


Describe a typical day - when you are at home and then when you are shooting.

It's always different depending on the time of year. But if I'm at home working, I try to wakeup and do a little stretching and plan my day. I'll snuggle with my crazy dog Mila for awhile and then make some tea and breakfast while I either a) Journal or b) get right into emails (I aim for A but B wins a lot). I try to empty that inbox and then do an instagram post of the day and respond to any comments or DMs, and then get into editing. Editing takes most of my time in season but I'll try to sneak out for a walk mid-day and grab lunch or coffee, and give my eyes a break if I can. If I need to mail out client packages I'll try to do that too down in Pawtuxet Village near my house, there's beautiful water views, and great coffee! My husband gets home from work around 3:30, so I'll take a short break and chat with him about his day, then get back to edits and another round of emails. I try to sign off the computer and phone by 5:30/6:00 to make dinner or get to Pure Barre or Hot Yoga. We usually end the day with Netflix (and who is kidding who, ice cream).

On a lifestyle shoot day, I'll usually wake up and eat something and caffeinate while I go over emails from the client/ art director / stylist and their mood boards to set the tone for the day. I'll mentally visualize how I want the shoot to go, shots I want to incorporate or processes I want to try out, and make sure all my gear is charged and packed and my pup is fed and happy. If I'm headed off to a wedding, I'll review the client's timeline, make sure I have all the directions and necessary phone numbers at the ready, check in with my second shooter, pack a lunch and jet off very early. Snacks and water are key to pack for any shoot, as when my energy falls so does my creativity.


What’s the hardest part about your job? The best part about your job?

The hardest part is balance. When you are self employed and work from home, you're basically always working. Making sure to take time for myself, for my husband, for my friends and family and not miss out on special events is difficult (and yet so important). I've learned over the past few years that you can't pour from an empty cup, and to block off dates in my calendar for vacation and quality time.

The best part of my job is the awesome people I get to work with and places I get to go. Working with other creatives, be it on a lifestyle shoot to document their work in food or product, or on a wedding capturing dreams coming true for brides and grooms, photographing things that people have made from their imagination is so much fun for me, and it's even more fun to document the process of that creation. It comes down just capturing love, whether it's between a couple, or between the creator and the product like a chef and his dish, a designer and her pieces, or a florist and her bouquet. And being in beautiful New England, there isn't a shortage of gorgeous spots to shoot.


How do you best unwind?

I need all the help I can get, haha! Travel is the always the best medicine for me, especially adventuring off somewhere far and unplugging. Realistically and more often, I try to get to a yoga or barre class, have dinner with a friend, take a walk with my hubby (Rocky Point is one of our favorite spots), snuggle with my pup, and have a glass (or 3) of wine. A lazy Sunday without my phone, getting Allie's donuts with the windows down, and a Kayak on Narrow River is my summer go-to. Last week I got a facial and Reiki from the amazing Emily Perkins of Love Living Holistics. I highly recommend it! I also try to do an annual trip to the Ocean House Spa with my girls.


Describe your dream client.

My dream lifestyle client is a maker who loves light and movement. Who trusts me to see both their process and the finished piece. Who does things with love. And, going back to my roots, is typically doing so in an environmentally-friendly way. Locality is special to me too, people who embrace their setting in their work. And also clients who allow a team approach, being able to work with a stylist like yourself who I jive with on many levels, to curate everything brings the work to another level.

My dream wedding client is a couple in love who trusts me to document their day unobtrusively, and all while the sun shines. Natural light and the surrounding environment plays a big part in how I capture weddings, and to have a couple who lets me help with timeline and setting and vendor suggestions to get that is key. Also, couples who are open in communicating from the start, and really let me in, developing a lasting friendship.


Favorite place to shoot?

Anywhere with natural light! I truly love the light in Little Compton and Tiverton, RI, and Sachuest Point in Middletown. There is something super special about the light in those locations, it's like the light in California, golden and bouncy. I think it's all the fields and pampas grass. I've been becoming more drawn to photographing indoors, too, with window and door light. 


What inspires you most?

Travel, hands down. There's something about travel that's almost out of body for me. I want to hear other languages and taste other foods and touch other soil. I love airports. I love airplanes (for about 5 hours then I get antsy). I've been skydiving twice. I'm a scuba diver. My most treasured possessions are my travel photographs. I lived in Hawaii for a semester in college. I think that's where I really fell in love with travel photography. I had never been outside the North East until then. I had never seen a palm tree. It literally changed my life.


Favorite editing app?

I'm supposed to say Lightroom but I actually hate it. I use Adobe Camera Raw to edit all my pics, old school. I edit all my instagram photos I post in my feed there, but for fun phone edits I like A Color Story or VSCO.


Favorite Rhode Island beach?

Blue Shutters (shhhh! It's a secret hidden gem. ). At URI, my group of guy friends were all skimboarders. I fell in love with this beach because they all loved it so much. Seeing a place through the eyes of other people makes it so much more special. There are no life guards, there are only like 20 parking spots. There's a huge drop off and big waves. You have to walk wayyyyy down the hot sand to get there. It's the best.


Next place on your bucket list?

There are too many to count! My husband is turning the big 4-0 this year so we are trying to think of somewhere awesome to celebrate. I'm hoping we can pull off Australia for this summer. If not, it might be Maui. We are hoping for Africa within 5 years. My parents want to go to Alaska with us when my mom retires in a few years. And in between I'm hoping to sneak a few days in Ireland and Iceland with the new fares out of Providence on Norwegian!  There will also be a Block Island and North Conway getaway in there too.


Favorite instagram accounts to follow?

Oh man! This is hard! I try not to follow any local New England photographers unless they are actual friends (I get major FOMO, like real bad)

For food: @local_milk @eyeswoon and @sundaysuppers
For general awesomeness: @jengotch from @shopbando (she is my entrepreneurial idol), @aww.sam whose account always makes me smile, and @ginnyau whose style is pretty much everything
For photography: @wendylaurel and @deb_schwedhelm . Both shoot very different from me and from each other. They both shoot a lot underwater which I love.
For dreaming: @gypsea_lust for travel and @freeandnative for inspiration
Locally: @bostonpollen @thedeanhotel @dscvrnewport  and of course @abbycapalbo! (she had to say that... ;)
The only celeb I follow is @goop. I love Gwyneth to the moon, even if her vitamins are a million dollars.


What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in business?

There are so many. But when it comes down to it, it's simple. Wow them. Wow them with whatever you can. Wow them with your service, your response speed, your product, your website, and by all means your time. Wow them with the amount of detail you give, or feedback you provide, or kindness you show. When you think you have given all you can, give a little more. And I don't mean be a doormat or give away free stuff, that's not business savvy. I mean give of yourself. Give what you would want to be given as that client. Sometimes it's just a thorough explanation of how you approach things to a commercial client. Sometimes it's running into the tent to get a bride a glass of water. Sometimes it's telling someone that shot just not working and you need to move on. Give 110%. Even when it's hard. Even when it's raining buckets - and even more so then. I'm on the ground in the mud. I'm literally falling in the ocean (that happened this year). I'm meowing at dogs and singing to kids to get them to look at me. I get home and I pass out from exhaustion, and half the time I look like a crazy person - but it's always worth it.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

This piece from Ira Glass sums up one. But also, " If you're not uncomfortable, you're not growing". Get uncomfortable. I don't think I've ever sat back and been comfortable. There's always room to grow, maybe in a new direction, maybe trying something different, maybe going somewhere new, maybe sending an email to someone you'd love to work with who you don't think would ever respond to you. What's the worst that can happen? 

Erin McGinn Rhode Island Photographer

See why I love her? She's a gem, and her images truly speak for themselves. I couldn't recommend her work enough.